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My Teaching Responsibilities - A Broad Approach to Science

   Columbia College in South Carolina is a small (approximately 1000 undergraduate students), private, women's college, drawing students regionally in the Southeastern United States. I teach in the Sciences program, which offers BS and BA degrees in Biology and Chemistry (10 to 15 graduates per year), Seven full-time faculty members contribute to the science curriculum and provide general education courses for all other majors. Approximately half of the students majoring in the sciences at Columbia College are African American, and most are first-generation college. 
    Because our program is so small, our faculty teach a broad variety of courses to deliver the curriculum. During the past five academic years, I have taught 12 different courses, including 9  different 4-credit laboratory Biology courses and 3 gen-ed seminars.  Until recently, my standard teaching load was 12 credit hours per semester (15 contact hours). Currently I am serving as Division head of the Business, Mathematics, and Sciences Programs; so my teaching is reduced.



My Teaching Challenge or Problem - Environmental Literacy

   The largest major at Columbia College is Elementary Education. Students in this major are required to take two lab science courses; one in the life sciences (Biology), and one in the physical sciences (Chemistry/Physics). Unfortunately, this approach often misses an important aspect of the Elementary School Science Standards for South Carolina - Environmental Science. In response to this problem, we have begun to develop environmental units into all of our General Education Science courses. At the same time, we have also made curricular changes in the Biology Program (another large major) which will require all students to take an Ecology class. As these changes begin to take effect, we would like to be able to track the environmental understanding and critical thinking of all of our graduates as they progress through the curriculum. In previous schools where I have worked, these issues are addressed under the rubric of "Environmental Literacy," an approach that might fit well with our overall mission of leadership development for women. In fact, in cases where groups of students have come to me with interest in service projects or other extracurricular leadership activities, they have often been focused on environmental issues. Having surveyed some of the literature on environmental literacy, I believe that it would be possible to identify or develop tools (surveys, interview procedures, text extractions, etc.) to measure changes among various populations of students, including education majors, science majors, and others. Any patterns in these data could then be tested for correlations with student experiences that we commonly associate with leadership development, including inquiry-based coursework, internships, independent research projects, volunteer activities, honors projects, memberships in organizations, and applications to graduate programs.

 

My Professional Development Goals - A Community of Colleagues

   My goals in applying to the Research Residency Program are largely an extension of my teaching philosophy, but I am also interested in exploring new types of scholarly activities that will help me to fulfill my administrative responsibilities, including assessment and planning tasks. During the last 24 months, my professional development activities have been focused on learning the ropes as a new Division Head for academic programs in Business, Mathematics, and Sciences. To this end, I have attended regional Council of Independent Colleges workshops in budgeting, curricular development, personnel policy, and measurement of learning outcomes. These activities have made me more aware of my good fortune to work at an institution that values both the processes and products of effective teaching in all disciplines. Unfortunately, my experience with the culture, the literature, the goals, and the resources for science teaching research are limited to articles that I have read in teaching journals, and attendance at teaching conferences, including meetings of the National Association of Biology Teachers, and Lily Education Conferences. At two educational conferences, I have delivered workshop presentations, but these were not based on research, only examples of teaching techniques. On campus, I have engaged in many organized and spontaneous discussions about effective teaching, but have found that the context of science education is truly unique relative to other liberal arts disciplines. In my own department, the closest that I have come to teaching research is the responsibility I take for collecting and interpreting annual assessment data. My sense is that the best way for me to professionally develop in the direction of the scholarship of teaching is to connect to a community of researchers that will help me avoid the pitfalls of inappropriate questions or study techniques. I believe that the Biology Scholars Program represents this type of community.

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